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Jill Scott: New Look, New Album, New Woman

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With her natural locks now replaced with a relaxed Rihanna-esque short do, a slimmed-down physique (she’s shed more than 60 pounds), and a new album with upbeat tracks featuring hip-hop heavyweights like Doug E. Fresh, fans of the neo-soul songstress Jill Scott may find themselves asking the same question she posed in her 2000 debut album, “Who Is Jill Scott?    

 

Her brand has undoubtedly evolved from the round-the-way girl from North Philadelphia with the big hair, body, and voice to a more mature and musically-accessible artist. In an online video series the self-described “Renaissance woman” says it is this ambiguity that makes her fourth studio album, “The Light of the Sun,” so refreshing and revealing: “I am sassy. I’m aggressive, smart, weak, strong. I’m a person, so that’s what you’re going to hear in the record.” (Video available at MissJillScott.com.)

 

Scott, 39, took a musical hiatus after the release of her last album in 2007, “The Real Thing: Words and Sounds Vol. 3.” But during that time her life was fraught with highs and lows.  She divorced her husband of six years Lyzel Williams in 2007. And just one year later she announced that she was engaged to her former drummer Lil’ John Roberts and pregnant with her first child. However, soon after the birth of her son Jett Hamilton Roberts in early 2009 the couple parted ways. 

 

The singer also embarked on several entrepreneurial endeavors.  She focused on her acting career, which included starring in the critically-acclaimed, but short-lived HBO series, “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” and the box office hits, “Why Did I Get Married?” part one and two. Moreover, she collaborated with plus-size retailer Ashley Stewart on a line of intimate apparel, The Butterfly Collection By Jill Scott. Last year she headlined a national tour with fellow R&B crooner Maxwell and due to irreconcilable differences, Scott left her long-time record label Hidden Beach.

 

Released on June 21 under a joint venture between Warner Bros. and Scott’s own Blues Babe Records, “The Light of the Sun” is her first album to debut at No.1 on the Billboard 200 chart, selling 135,000 in its first week. She’s worked with everyone from Darius Rucker from Hootie & The Blowfish to The Isley Brothers, and even has a Grammy (one of three) for her duet with rapper Lupe Fiasco; but ironically, the songs on Scott’s previous albums are primarily performed solo. 

 

For avid fans a track list that includes guest appearances by R&B singer Anthony Hamilton, and hip-hop artists Eve, Doug E. Fresh, and Paul Wall might suggest an unnerving cross-over attempt.  But rest assured, even though she diverges from her comfort zone, Miss Scott stays true to her soulful roots.

 

The album’s first single, “So In Love” a duet with Hamilton, is an upbeat, feel-good song with an undeniable old school vibe reminiscent of the music of Shalamar or the Gap Band’s classic track, “Outstanding.” The nostalgic motif continues throughout the first part of the album. For example, “Shame” featuring Eve and The A Group, is bound to have you busting out the troop or the Roger rabbit because of its new jack swing sound. “All Cried Out Redux” includes minimal production apart from the piano and Doug E. Fresh’s beatboxing, which gives the song a playful, ragtime sentiment.

 

In the second half of the song “Le Boom Vent Suite,” the album’s tone clearly shifts gears and Scott revisits the neo-soul aesthetic fans have come to associate with her music. The compositions slow down, she skillfully draws on her variant vocal range, and listeners take heed to sultry keyboard and bass arrangements, and of course the signature neo-soul breakbeat style of drums. For instance, “Making You Wait” borrows from Prince’s distinctive sound. The contrast between the erotic music and the demure lyrics creates a compelling tension.

 

Scott’s music remains highly autobiographical. She uses her music to tell stories, recite poetry, and discuss her personal experiences and feelings. She describes the opening track “Blessed” as “a testimony to loving and appreciating the things that I can’t hold in my hand.” Furthermore, “Quick” is a reflective track that candidly discusses the hasty nature of the relationship with her son’s father.

 

With “The Light of the Sun” Scott maintains her lyrical and musical depth, but ventures into new, more high-spirited territory. Like those who rejected the happy-go-lucky “No More Drama” Mary J. Blige, some of Scott’s fans may balk at her new blithe attitude. But to her, the feelings evoked from her music override the sound: “I want somebody to feel what I’m saying and if by chance it makes you shake your butt, I’m really really good with that too.”        


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